With the rate of attacks on police officers in Germany increasing, a Hamburg journalist started a Facebook group to raise awareness of the problem. The response has been mostly encouraging.
It happened on a Sunday morning. A woman who had been abused by her husband called the police. Her child was alone with the man and she wanted someone to return her child to her. Two police officers were sent to the apartment. Norbert Spinrath was one of them. As he waited at the door, he assumed he was about to perform a relatively easy police task.
But no one told him that the woman's husband was a gun enthusiast, and seconds later Spinrath had a pistol pointed at him. Luckily, he and his colleague managed to overpower the man in one swift move, redirecting a potentially fatal shot towards the ceiling.
Hostage taking, drunken fights, burglaries: a police officer's job can be very dangerous. And even though this has always been the case, the last few years have seen a rise in violence against the police in Germany. According to official statistics, the number of attacks on police rose from 53,000 to 60,000 between 2011 and 2012 - these statistics mean there are 165 assaults on police taking place in Germany each day.
Name-calling and physical assaults
"The violence today is different than in the past," said Spinrath, who today serves as a member of the German parliament for the Social Democratic Party. He joined the police force in 1974 and has observed some changes in behavior towards police since then, especially a declining level of respect. Markus Vogt, a 40-year-old police officer from the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, can attest to this: according to him, both male and female police officers are called an array of derogatory names on a daily basis.
A recent clash between left-wing activists and the police in Hamburg caused particular commotion. The demonstration ended in heavy rioting; police officers were pelted with rocks and bottles. According to official reports, 120 officers were injured, some of these seriously. One day earlier, on December 20, a Hamburg police station was the subject of another attack by unknown offenders.
Taking action via Facebook
Journalist Andreas Hallaschka is sitting at his computer and working when news breaks about yet another attack at Hamburg's Davidwache police station, near the city's famous red-light district, on December 29. Masked attackers allegedly assaulted police officers with rocks and pepper spray. Hallaschka was speechless, and posted a note on Facebook: "Are we waiting for the first casualty?" After this he wants to continue working, but his thoughts keep returning to the disturbing incident. He created a Facebook group called "Solidarity with the officers of the Davidwache" and within days it attracted over 50,000 fans.
The page becomes a forum for lively discussion - not only about Hamburg but about violence against police and other authority figures throughout Germany. Many of the group's members want to show their commitment to the cause: the page features a series of photos depicting ordinary people in front of the Davidwache and young children in police uniforms. Vogt is also a member of the group.
According to Hallaschka, people had been indifferent to violence against police, shrugging it off as a part of the job. "But now that we have this discussion on Facebook, it's becoming clear that people are no longer prepared to tolerate it," he said.
Since the group was founded, Hallaschka has been contacted by people from all over Germany.
"There are stories of police officers who can no longer do their job - who are mentally shattered and who have been severely injured," he said. Police officers also post on the page in an attempt to draw attention to their situation. One of them is Christian Boening from Lower Saxony, who wrote: "We have no lobby in politics or in the media. We are a means to an end."
Egocentric attitude to blame?
Despite the overall solidarity among the group's members, there are some who post comments justifying an aggressive anti-police tactics.
Spinrath said such attitudes and violent tendencies are the result of one's upbringing. "My generation wanted to produce enlightened, self-confident teenagers and adults - but it often went wrong," he explained. Instead, it has produced many individuals "who don't prioritize social cohesion but their own advantage."
Vogt has a similar perspective on the issue. "People have become more individualistic and more inconsiderate at the same time," he said. Those who attack police officers like to forget that "they are hurting the person inside the uniform."
But despite the increasing violence against police, Vogt cannot imagine a different job for himself, "I want to help people - this is what motivates me on a daily basis."